Word that legendary Kent Roosevelt High School football coach John Nemec had retired and accepted a part-time position as Director of Player Personnel with the University of Akron football program left many sports fans in our area stunned, to say the very least.
I was certainly one of them.
I spent the rest of last week exploring the move, and here's what I found:
1. Kent State football coach Paul Haynes and Nemec have a great relationship that goes a long way back, and Nemec has never been one of those area football coaches that would detach himself or his players from the long-suffering KSU program. In fact three former Rough Riders stars will be on the team next year -- Evan Shimensky, Marcus Wright and Matt Sommers.
Adding Nemec to Haynes' staff seemed like a perfect fit.
2. Nemec was highly interested in joining Haynes at Kent State, and his asking price was far less than any current member of the lowest-paid assistant coaching staff in the Mid-American Conference is making. However, Flashes Director of Athletics Joel Nielsen said the position that Nemec was interested in did not exist at Kent State.
"We had conversations," said Nielsen. "John talked with us in regards to involvement with us, and we have some existing roles within the department that would have allowed him to work directly with football. We talked about how some of the interest that he had could be worked into some of our existing positions. That's about as far as it went. We don't have (the Director of Player Personnel) position. It's something we may look at in the future."
Nemec confirmed that Kent State was unable to secure a position for him, and that's when he began speaking to coach Terry Bowden at Akron about a part-time role in his football program.
"I'm very grateful for the opportunity at Akron," said Nemec. "I was nervous about retiring and not having anything to do. This gives me an opportunity to work part-time with young men in the sport that I love. I have no ill-feelings toward anyone at Kent State. I wish Paul the best. I think he's an excellent football coach and a fine man."
3. There was no bidding war between the two backyard rivals. Kent State could not get the deal done for various reasons, and Akron swooped in - pure and simple. Kudos to Akron for pouncing on a golden opportunity to snatch up one of the most highly respected football coaches and men in the game -- at any level.
These are my findings. Now you can draw your own conclusions, just like I have.
There seems to be a growing divide between expectations and support within the Flashes' athletic programs, namely the "big two."
A .500 men's basketball season last winter is considered a complete bust by most supporters, following a string of 15 straight with 19 wins or more, yet no major upgrades to facilities have been made since 1992. Coaches' salaries are among the lowest in the MAC, and slip another notch every time a program makes a new hire.
While Akron is finalizing plans for a new downtown arena, the M.A.C. Center just gets older and more decrepit by the day.
The football program is asked to not only support virtually the entire athletic program financially, but win as well with an outdated venue of its own on a shoestring budget that can't find a way to wedge in a nominal salary for a legendary local coach looking for a place to wind down his illustrious career.
I know budgets are tight, but winning simply doesn't come dirt cheap.
This is no single person's fault. It's an overall philosophy that needs to change if the Powers That Be at Kent State University truly believe that athletics matter and want their football and basketball programs in particular to succeed, both today and in the years to come.
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